This past May served as a great awakening to the potential and diversity within the top expressions of Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre. Styles of winemaking differ nearly as much as the change in soil throughout the region, from flint - to marl - to Kimmeridgian limestone.
A tour throughout the seven different parcels of Sauvignon Blanc with Jean-Dominique Vacheron was a thrilling way to get up close with the varied landscape. Farming in organics and biodynamics since 2000, this estate is the benchmark for Sancerre. There is no expression more regal, disciplined, and refined as Vacheron.
The process of crafting world class Sauvignon Blanc at Domaine Vacheron is ever changing, as cousins Jean-Dominique and Jean-Laurent Vacheron are continually looking for ways improve upon what their parents and great grandparents have handed down to them. Farming practices are rigorous here, and there are no short cuts taken. It's very rare in Sancerre to farm in organics and biodynamics as the weather can be brutal and uncooperative. Today, still there are less than ten producers who are certified in organic viticulture.
In the cellar there has been a move to utilize more large vessels such as foudre to ensure the wines are taut and crystal clear in their definition as temperatures in the region continue to climb. All wines are fermented with native yeasts, and the lunar cycle dictates when bottling occurs, always without any fining or filtration.
At the domaine with Jean-Dominique I tasted through several back-vintages of Sancerre from single vineyards, as well as the estate's flagship "entry level" Sancerre. The wines stand out from many in the region for their sense of clarity and energy, at the same time showcasing forward and ripe citrus fruits, white flowers, and tarragon notes. With time all of the wines develop a faint honeyed quality matched with a mouth watering salinity that provided a perfect sense of balance.
2015 Vacheron Sancerre
$37 per bottle.
The perfect bottle of Sancerre, combining vineyards grown on the regions two distinct soils of Kimmeridgian limestone and flint (silex).
2014 Vacheron Sancerre Les Romains
$61 per bottle
The top white wine of the domaine, and certainly one of the greatest single expressions of Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Coming from vines over 60-years-old planted on a complete south-facing vineyard. Soil is comprised exclusively of flint (silex) imbuing a smokey quality met with the most elegant frame of all the Vacheron wines.
2010 Vacheron Sancerre Les Romains
$82 per bottle (pre-arrival)
Back-vintages of Les Romains simply do not exist. We were thrilled to get this tiny allocation. Very limited!
Whenever the depth of winter creeps its way in I find myself reaching for a smaller and smaller group of red wines. Where Burgundy, Loire, Rhone, Piedmont, and Tuscany are mainstays throughout the fall there comes a time about now when I start craving something wild, different, and immensely soothing. The alpine vineyards in France and Italy just south of Switzerland are the place I continually turn, and they continually deliver exactly what I'm looking for. These moments are frustrating in the sense that each of these three producers should have their wines opened with regularity 12 months a year. However, it's now that we need to take a close look at the best of what the vineyards at the base of the Alps have to offer.
Like her family before her, Elisabetta Foradori focuses primarily on Teroldego, the indigenous red grape grown at the base of the Dolomite mountains in northeast Italy. The decision she made to shift from industrial farming to an organic and biodynamic model in 2000 elevated her family's estate onto the world's stage.
Foradori's Teroldegos are the kinds of wines that you'd like to see on the list at every restaurant you frequent, as its versatility is remarkable. It opens with notes of dark plums, licorice, and heady roasted flavor, then softens allowing more floral and herbaceous qualities to come to the forefront. From first sip to that last these wines of Elisabetta are always changing, and fascinating to no end.
2011 Foradori Teroldego IGT
From gravelly soils, aged in a combination of neutral barrels and stainless steel.
$27 per bottle.
2013 Foradori Sgarzon Teroldego IGT
Darker and more concentrated, with more black fruits, black licorice, and wild savory spices.
From sandy soils. 8 months macerating in amphore, with further aging in large neutral barrel.
$46 per bottle.
2013 Foradori Granato Teroldego IGT
From fine silt and gravel soils, aged in neutral barrels.
The most refined and understated. Textured and creamy, black cherry, dark plums, and mint.
$66 per bottle.
The Grojean family have been farming their vineyards in the mountains of Italy's Valle D'Aoste for generations, but it wasn't until 1969 that they were recognized at a local expo and the wines began to be exported. Importer Neal Rosenthal is dialed into the alpine vineyards throughout northern Italy like no one else. His portfolio is so diverse with talents like Jean-Marie Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Montevertine, but it's these smaller, more modestly priced producers from esoteric regions that define the brilliance of his band of vignerons.
The village of Fornet in the Valle D'Aoste sits in the shadow of the towering Mont Blanc. As you can imagine the high altitude conditions provide a snap and clarity to the wines here. Torrette Supériur is sourced from the Rovettaz vineyard comprised largely of sandy-clay soils. The native variety Petit Rouge makes up 85% of the blend, with 10% Furmin and 5% Cornalin. The wine is aged in stainless steel preserving the bright and electric fruit personality. Black raspberry, red licorice, and wild herbs all meld together here to craft an absolutely delicious wine completely reflective of its unique place.
2010 Grosjean Torrette Supérieur Vigne Rovettaz
$24 per bottle.
Domaine Belluard is home to the most thrilling and complete wines in France's Savoie. Dominique Belluard took over his family's vineyards in 1988, at that time the estate was also home to dairy cows, apples, and a mix of agriculture. Just 30 miles from Mont Blanc the village of Ayse is greatly influenced by the towering Alps, but plantings for all of the vineyards are kept at a relative low altitude to allow for maximum ripening.
In addition to Dominique's monumental Mont Blanc sparkling wine, he produces Mondeuse, a native red variety of the region. Of all Dominique's wines his Mondeuse is the rarest with less than one hectare planted. This wine in fermented and aged in amphore and sees no oak or steel at any point of aging. Mondeuse shows a vivid purple quality that calls to mind both Syrah a Gamay. This stands out for its pitch perfect balance, and absolutely singular notes of wild herbs and beaming purple and black fruit characteristics. Their is a softness to the wine that makes it just so easy to drink, but it's structure and mineral backbone is still totally present and vivid. Allocations of this wine are usually less than 12 bottles per year. We were lucky enough to secure a few different vintages here. These wines age beautifully, as primary fruit softens and notes of wild flowers and minerality come more to the forefront.
2014 Domaine Belluard Mondeuse
$57 per bottle.
2013 Domaine Belluard Mondeuse
$57 per bottle.
2012 Domaine Belluard Mondeuse
$57 per bottle.
Bordeaux has become an increasingly difficult region to sum up in a brief tag line. The style that endeared itself to millions of wine lovers of generations past has largely subsided. Today it's most common to find more full throttle, dark, extracted, oaky, and jam-inflected wines. Vineyards that have screamed of terroir as much as anywhere in the world have been overshadowed by power and the prized quality of a first bombastic impression. Subtlety and quiet conviction does not draw big scores.
But, this isn't a look at how everything has changed. It's a focus on what has just about stayed the same. While modernization has improved quality throughout the region these producers highlighted have remained focused on more traditional winemaking and exceptional vineyard management. These are the domaines that deserve your attention.
Moulin de Tricot was established in the 1800's on the gravel and sand soils of Margaux on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. The property is just under 5 hectares. While most of the Margaux appellation has moved towards a higher planting of Merlot to give more plump, juicy, and forward qualities to their wines, Moulin de Tricot has maintained their historic balance of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The wines here are quintessential left bank Bordeaux, showcasing tell-tale cigar box and graphite among the array of black cherry and plum notes.
The Chateau produces two wines, the Haut Médoc (partially comprised of land outside of the Margaux appellation), and the flagship Margaux bottling. Both wines are aged in older French oak barrels. The mix of sand in the soil in Margaux gives the wines an elegance and delicacy that stand out a bit from their northern neighbors with more gravel-dominant soils. These two bottlings are the first place to turn for honest, terroir-driven Bordeaux at a price point that stands out in stark contrast to the wines coming from throughout their zip code.
2012 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Haut Médoc
$29.95 per bottle.
2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Margaux
$74.95 per bottle.
Château Le Puy sits on the same plateau as its famed next door neighbors Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the right bank. Le Puy is at an unusually high 350-meter elevation, offering a cooler microclimate within the region. Like most wines hailing from the right bank Merlot is the dominant variety in these blends. At Le Puy 85% Merlot is joined with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carmenère, and Cabernet Franc.
Clay is usually the feature of the right bank, but a substantial amount of limestone exists at Le Puy. Coupled with the high altitude and minimal interventionist approach the wines here are distinctly old school. Chemicals have never been used in the vineyards, sulphur is eliminated from the equation during fermentation, and the lunar calendar has continued to guide cellar practices. These are unapologetically mineral-driven, completely authentic, and singular wines.
The Château produces two reds. The "Emilien" bottling is aged in large foudre to start, helping preserve brightness of fruit and verve. "Barthelémy" is made in minuscule quantities, and comes from a very limestone-dominant single vineyard. It is aged in smaller barrels, of which less than 10% are new.
2012 Château Le Puy "Emilien" Côtes de Bordeaux
$42.95 per bottle.
2010 Château Le Puy "Bartelémy" Côtes de Bordeaux
$164.95 per bottle.
Domaine du Jaugaret has been run by the same family since the mid 17th century. Small production takes new meaning here with a total vineyard planting of 1.3 hectares. Average age of the vines is 50 years, comprised of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon along with Petit Verdot and Malbec (from 100-year old vines). Again, the missing large component of Merlot has moved this time-honored and typical St. Julien blend to be seen as more of an outlier amongst its contemporaries.
Jaugaret is on very deep gravel soils, and this means yields are painfully low each year, but concentration of fruit and sharply defined minerality give the wines a vivacity and electric personality that is completely unique in Bordeaux. My first time tasting I couldn't help but be reminded of a sense of fluorescent saturation on the palate, met with vivid, high-toned minerality. The fruit is very much in the red and black raspberry category, met with bitter chocolate and pencil lead. There is something so very traditional about the wine that it almost seems alien in nature. Sadly, the larger appellation's move in the modern direction have made this case for Jaugaret.
2009 Domaine du Jaugaret Saint-Julien
(2009 brought a more fruit forward, round, and plush style)
$103.95 per bottle.
2010 Domaine du Jaugaret Saint-Julien
(2010 brought a combination of high ripeness and relatively high acidity. Wines with tremendous energy)
$164.95 per bottle.
Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the great Second Growth classified chateau of Bordeaux, with original plantings at the start of the 13th century. The name translates to "beautiful stones", as the estate is comprised of round stones from its incredibly gravelly soils along the Gironde estuary. It's these very deep soils with their excellent drainage that play such a large role in the definition and concentration to the wines here.
Plantings are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, with some parcels going back to 1918! A rise in quality has been seen here in the last several decades as now the strict selection of grapes for this bottling has been reduced by 50% compared to what was practiced in 1982. Grapes not deemed worthy for this top bottling are destined for their 2nd label, La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou.
The 2008 vintage was unique for Ducru. The growing season was cool with challenges throughout the summer, but a true Indian summer ended things magnificently. The vintage calls to mind the more classic wines of yesteryear where earth and floral notes played a more substantial role.
The traditionally-minded John Gilman of View from the Cellar captures things here very well,
"The 2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the top wines of the vintage...While Ducru has produced exemplary efforts in both 2009 and 2010, make no mistake, the 2008 is the finest of the troika. A great 2008!"
2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou Saint-Julien
$154.95 per bottle.
A week in Burgundy this past June offered a terrific opportunity to familiarize myself with the recently released 2014 vintage, but was also an awakening to some newer producers that I'm thrilled to now be working with. What impressed so much about the 2014 Red Burgundy vintage was the exceptional consistency across the board, and the tremendous accessibility of the very young wines.
2014 red burgundies show a great sense of balance, and are certainly mid weight in style. They are fleshy, show darker fruit characteristics that the 2013's, and have a supple quality to the tannins that's largely responsible for their early drinking appeal. While these villages and premier cru wines will develop beautifully over the next decade there is something to be said for catching these wines shortly after release when the fruit is vibrant and that connection to the raw material is displayed in high definition.
It should be said that the looming 2015 red burgundy vintage (with its record heat not seen since 2003) will receive accolades for it's density and power, and the wines from barrel were impressive. However, the more classically proportioned 2014's offer a sense of clarity, energy, and terroir reflection that's on a very different scale. These are gorgeous wines from Bourgogne level through the grand crus.
Here's a look at the most exciting producers from the most revered villages in the Côte d'Or.
2014 Domaine de la Cras "Cras" Coteaux de Dijon Bourgogne Rouge
$44.95 per bottle.
Down to $40.45 with any 6 bottles or more!
Domaine de la Cras is one of the more exciting producers to come our way, and the story of its inception goes very much against the grain of what Burgundian law has dictated for centuries. Three years ago the city of Dijon purchased a vineyard just outside their city limits. The city essentially held a casting call to find a winemaker for the property. The criteria was that they must be young, have no family vineyard holdings, be prepared for organic farming, and open the domaine for educational tours. The rent for the land would be paid each year to the city in bottles, 2,000 exactly.
Marc Soyard, originally from the nearby Jura, was chosen. Soyard does not come from a family of vignerons, but he had worked previously for the esteemed and tiny Domaine Bizot in Vosne-Romanée. Bizot is known for their rigorous vineyard work, minuscule sulphur regimen, and their use of whole grape clusters for fermentation.
The "Cras" bottling is one of the top Pinot Noirs from Soyard's estate. Like Bizot, there is a very high proportion of whole clusters used for fermentation and sulphur is added only very minimally at bottling. The "Cras" is one of the more fascinating and singular wines I've tasted over the last year. It has an abundance of high toned, crunchy, and spicy notes from the stem inclusion, and its very low alcohol level puts the aromatics of the wine front and center. For a region so steeped in tradition it's thrilling to see a new generation learn from the past and provide their own voice for the future. Perhaps the greatest endorsement of this new project is that along with being delicious the wines are absolutely singular in their expression of the hillside vineyards above Dijon.
2014 Pierre Guillemot Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru Serpentières
$45.95 per bottle.
Down to $41.35 with any 6 bottles or more!
If Marc Soyard represents the new upstart vigneron, then Domaine Pierre Guillemot certainly embodies the best aspects of tradition, as they are now onto the 8th generation. Winemaking here has remained largely unchanged, but of course for some modernization to ensure cleanliness and efficiency in the cuverie. Their dank cellar left an imprint in my mind like few others have, and memories of these wines going back over a decade are a large reason for why I planned my year in Beaune starting in January 2012. And when it came time to setup a very first visit upon landing the choice was clear.
Guillemot ferments their reds in wooden vats and aging occurs in barrels with no more than 10% new oak employed. Their 1er Cru Serpentières is the domaines most distinguished red (outside of their grand cru Corton). The soil is largely comprised of marl (clayey limestone), and their is a terrific track record of aging. Just last year I opened bottles of 2002 and 1999 and both were stunningly fresh.
2014 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Clos du Roy
$53.95 per bottle.
Down to $48.55 with any 6 bottles or more!
The village of Marsannay has an interesting past. When vineyard classifications were made by Jules Lavalle in 1855 the entirety of Marsannay was planted to Gamay. And truth be told the appellation wasn't officially even recognized until 1987 for all three colors (white, rosé, red). Much of this delay had to do with objection from villages like Fixin and Corgoloin. In short, Marsannay has very, very good terroir, but it's the top producers such as Pataille and Bruno Clair who are able to coax brilliance. The fact is if Pinot Noir had been planted here in the distant past several vineyards would've received premier cru status, and Clos du Roy would be at the top of that list.
Pataille is known for a light touch in the cellar, as the wines never show hard edges or rustic tannins. They are always graceful and beg to be drunk. Finding a suave and sexy texture to red burgundy can often come at the expense of excessive new oak, but here that is not the case. The wines are highlighted by exceptional fruit, a finely etched mineral streak, and outrageous floral notes.
2014 Lignier-Michelot Morey Saint Denis En la Rue de Vergy
$63.95 per bottle
Down to $57.55 with any 6 bottles or more!
Back in 2012 the word around the Côte de Nuits was to make sure to check out what was happening at Lignier-Michelot. The wines had alway been good, but things were clearly ascending very rapidly. A tasting then put them on my radar, but it wasn't until the 2014 vintage that I knew these were wines that I must have. Morey Saint Denis is a small village, but the concentration of iconic domaines is quite long. Dujac, Lignier,Lambrays, Clos du Tart, Truchot, Ponsot, and now the young Tissier-Charlopin.
En la Rue de Vergy sits above grand cru Clos de Tart. Its thin topsoil and extremely rocky limestone base breed a wine with tremendous minerality and tension, but still very much showcase the forward fruit that Clos de Tart below is known for. From 40-year old vines, this wine is fermented with 30% whole clusters and sees about 30% new oak. The wines of Morey often are spoken of in the way they perhaps relate to the northern and tannic, dark earth of Gevrey-Chambertin and to the south the ethereal and lifted style of Chambolle-Musigny. To be fair Morey exists on its own with 5 grand crus all held in a remarkably small 137 hectares. This wine does seem to embody some of those characteristics from its northern and southern village neighbors, but I love how it's decidedly Morey Saint Denis, wild and spicy, still with a regal disposition. When looking to be introduced to quintessential Côte de Nuits from the most storied villages this bottling is simply the ideal place to start.
2014 Benjamin Leroux Gevrey Chambertin Aux Etelois
Down to $71.95 with any 6 bottles or more!
From the age of 15 Benjamin Leroux worked part time with the famed Domaine du Comte Armand of Pommard, and after 8 years he took on duty as winemaker there in 1999. His own domaine focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from several different appellations throughout the Côte d'Or. Finding hidden gems in the greatest villages is truly one of the highlights of being a wine merchant. And first taste of Leroux's Aux Etelois was one of those moments that reminds you there are steals to be had in Burgundy, even at $70.
Etelois sits at the base of grand cru Griotte-Chambertin in a former quarry. Like Griotte, the sweet cherry fruit of Etelois is front and center. There is a fine texture to all of Leroux wines that stand out above all else. His deft use of new oak is another element that continuously surprises. While Griotte-Chambertin from Ponsot and Fourrier can top $1,000 per bottle it's nice to see that you can stay in relatively similar real estate for well under $100!
2014 Fabrice Vigot Vosne Romanée Les Damaudes
$85.95 per bottle
Down to $77.35 with any 6 bottles or more!
Fabrice Vigot is one of the newest discoveries for me, and the wines have just now appeared in the US. Fabrice manages many of the Mugneret-Gibourg vineyards, but the stylistic connections from bottle are quite deep between the two.
Like the wines of Mugneret-Gibourg, here too the velvety texture and forward ripeness are obvious immediately. Terroir specificity is also on full display despite the plush nature of the wines. While Vigot's Echezeaux and Colombière show that exotic spice of Vosne-Romanée, the Daumaudes bottling stands out in its own way. If you look on a map at the surrounding vineyards of Daumaudes you will see some familiar names most noted for price tags that regularly exceed $500 per bottle, to say nothing of the $3,000 per bottle of La Tâche.
This southern section of Vosne-Romanée is home to the most prized real estate in Burgundy. The trick is finding producers like Vigot whose production and market presence is small enough to be able to take advantage of the sharp pricing. Exposure to these wines will undoubtedly climb rapidly over the coming years now that these are stateside. Daumaudes is the perfect wine of the Fabrice Vigot lineup to get acquainted with today, and Vosne-Romanée is a village that always deserves attention.2014 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale
$119.95 per bottle
Down to $107.95 with any 6 bottles or more!
2013 vintage $119.95 per bottle
Down to $107.95 with any 6 bottles or more!
2012 vintage $134.95 per bottle
Down to $121.45 with any 6 bottles or more!
The wines of Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier capture the very most ethereal qualities of red burgundy. When asked about desert island wines I speak of Mugnier right off the bat. The wines drink well from day one, and their charm and levity make them tug at the heartstrings like few other wines in the world. Mugnier de-stems 100% of fruit, relies on extremely gentle extraction, and very modest amounts of new oak influence in the cellar. The wines are aromatic and sensual like none other.
Nearly all holdings of the domaine are in Chambolle-Musigny, but after the harvest of 2003 the monopole premier cru vineyard Clos de la Marechale in Nuits-Saint-Georges was returned to the Mugnier family after being rented to Maison Faiveley since 1950. While NSG is regarded for its dark earth and muscular profile, this vineyard located in front of a quarry has much chalkier soils than is the village norm. Coupled with the gentle hand of Mugnier these wines exploded onto the scene officially with the lauded 2005 vintage.
While Mugnier's Musigny retails for well over $1,200 per bottle, the same craftsmanship and meditative philosophy is applied to his single monopole bottling in the Marechale. It also cannot be overstated how critical Mugnier's attention to detail in the vineyard is greatly responsible for the wild success of this premier cru over the last decade. This is no doubt the finest expression of Pinot Noir from a village known for it's brawn.2014 Jean-Marc Bouley Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes
$143.95 per bottle
Down to $129.55 with any 6 bottles or more!
Family succession in Burgundy can lead a domaine in many directions. The stewardship of Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley by Thomas Bouley starting in 2012 has proven to be a tremendous success. Thomas joined in 2002 to work alongside his father and throughout that time the domaine's popularity grew. However, it's in the last couple vintages that the wines here have seemingly reached a new pinnacle.
The success starts in the vineyard with true conscientious work - yields are kept very low with between 6-8 bunches left per vine. In the cellar the wines see partial whole cluster fermentation and new oak usage up to 50%. The wines struck me for their high wire balance between concentrated, ripe fruit and a stunning incorporation of new wood - it's this marriage that really sounded the fireworks upon tasting.
Volnay, and Chambolle-Musigny, are regarded as the two most feminine and graceful villages in Burgundy. Much of this is due to high active limestone content in the soils. However, Volnay's premier cru vineyards display a rigorous minerality that give these wines serious backbone to age as well as any wines in the region. Iron fist in the velvet glove is a moniker that's used throughout the wine world, but it's an image that's continuously called to mind when tasting top Volnay bottlings.
Clos de Chênes is the highest altitude premier cru in Volnay, and its status as a top site within the village is only further cemented when tasting older bottles from Lafarge. Like Clos des Ducs, Clos des Chênes would be the first vineyard to look in Volnay should grand cru elevation finally come to fruition. Catching these top Volnays in their youth provides a thrilling chance to dive into the kaleidoscope fruit spectrum while it's so primary and inviting.